Six Democrats competing for California’s 48th Congressional District—which is currently held by Republican Dana Rohrabacher—discussed women’s issues during a debate Wednesday night in the Robert B. Moore Theatre at Orange Coast College.
Candidates Harley Rouda, Hans Keirstead, Omar Siddiqui, Laura Oatman, Michael Kotick and Rachel Payne tackled sexual harassment, sexism, equal pay for equal work, LGBT rights, the #MeToo movement and the need to have more women in congress in front of students and community members in a packed auditorium that seats over 900 people.
Rohrabacher was invited but not in attendance.
“Every issue is a woman’s issue,” LGBT Center Orange County director of policy, advocacy and youth programs Laura Kanter said. “When we talk about policy change we need to get to know how to address the fundamental issues of sexism and the power relations that operate on all levels of society, both personal and political.”
Harley Rouda, a Laguna Beach businessman and strong supporter of Medicare, said the most pressing issue is healthcare, adding that climate change and human rights—whether women’s rights, voter rights, worker rights, LGBT rights, immigrant rights and everything in between—are also top priorities.
Hans Keirstead, a stem cell researcher and former UC Irvine professor, agreed, in addition to advocating environmental protection and job development.
“Health care is just a right, it’s not a privilege,” Keirstead said.
Omar Siddiqui, a trial lawyer who has worked with the FBI and CIA, said his top priority is national security, explaining that Rohrabacher—whose ties to Russia have come under scrutiny—is a threat. Siddiqui’s other pressing issues of importance include women’s rights, a clean Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals bill and a single-payer health care system.
“[Omar Siddiqui] is the best candidate to run against Dana Rohrabacher as he has experience working with the CIA, FBI, supports DACA and has met with former president Barack Obama,” non-student attendee Lucille Raymond said.
But all candidates agreed on the need to flip the seat from red to blue.
“Instead of talking about what I want to do, I want to talk about what we’re all here to do which is flip the 48th district,” Michael Kotick, a Laguna Beach businessman said. “We need a new type of candidate. Dana Rohrabacher has got to go.”
At every mention of unseating Republican Rep. Rohrabacher, the audience roared in applause.
Rohrabacher, whose 48th district includes Huntington Beach and parts of Costa Mesa, Santa Ana, Fountain Valley and Laguna Beach, is known for his strong opposition to undocumented immigrants, Obamacare, gay marriage and also for his skepticism that global warming is man-made.
“That man does not represent us. I will represent you,” Laura Oatman, an architect and business owner, said about Rohrbacher. “I’ve not Googled these issues… I’ve lived these issues.”
Oatman, whose priority is tackling climate change, shared an anecdote about growing up in Los Angeles and being forbidden to play outside as a little girl because of the smog.
Technology executive Rachel Payne said that her highest priority is equal pay for equal work. She said she plans on addressing this issue by evaluating job segregation and jobs that disproportionately affect women, ensuring a minimum wage and providing paid family leave.
The audience included Orange Coast College students with political curiosity, a few of whom admitted to attending for extra credit.
“I’m here to support Rachel Payne because she has a lot of vision and will represent our communities,” 18-year-old biology major David Aung said.
Computer science major Michael Koni, 19, also stood by Payne’s ideas.
“Payne said it best when she said that it’s time for employers to be accountable for their employees and employees to realize that sexual harassment has to stop,” Koni said. “[It was an] excellent presentation by all candidates, they articulated their ideas clearly.”
Computer science major Megan Huyns, 28, said the discussion emphasized the message that women should be treated equally. Her favorite candidate is Oatman.
“It was a good experience and the candidates shared their vision very well,” Huyns said.
The women’s issue debate was hosted by Indivisible OC in partnership with the South Orange County group Women for American Values and Ethics and the Community Action Fund of Planned Parenthood Orange and San Bernardino Counties. Joanna Weiss, founder and president of WAVE, moderated the discussion.
The debate ran from 7 to 9:30 p.m. and was the first in a series of four monthly topical discussions that will cover climate change, immigration, civil rights and health care.